Albert Kahn (architect)

For other people named Albert Kahn, see Albert Kahn (disambiguation).
Albert Kahn
Born (1869-03-21)March 21, 1869
Rhaunen, Kingdom of Prussia (Germany)
Died December 8, 1942(1942-12-08) (aged 73)
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Nationality American
Occupation architect
Known for Detroit
Relatives Julius Kahn, brother
Albert E. Kahn, nephew

Albert Kahn (March 21, 1869 – December 8, 1942) was the foremost American industrial architect of his day. He is sometimes called the architect of Detroit. In 1943, the Franklin Institute awarded him the Frank P. Brown Medal posthumously.[1]


Kahn was born to a Jewish family[2] on March 21, 1869 in Rhaunen, Kingdom of Prussia. Kahn came to Detroit in 1880, at the age of 11.[3] His father Joseph was trained as a rabbi; his mother Rosalie had a talent for the visual arts and music. As a teenager, he got a job at the architectural firm of Mason and Rice.[3] Kahn won a year's scholarship to study abroad in Europe, where he toured with another young architecture student, Henry Bacon, who would later design the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C..[3][4]

In 1895, he founded the architectural firm Albert Kahn Associates.[5] Together with his younger brother Julius, he developed a new style of construction where reinforced concrete replaced wood in factory walls, roofs, and supports. This gave better fire protection and allowed large volumes of unobstructed interior. Packard Motor Car Company's factory, designed in 1903, was the first development of this principle.[6]

Packard Automotive Plant building no. 10 in construction, c. 1905

The success of the Packard plant interested Henry Ford in Kahn's designs. Kahn designed Ford Motor Company's Highland Park plant, begun in 1909, where Ford consolidated production of the Ford Model T and perfected the assembly line.[7][8]

Kahn later designed, in 1917, the massive half-mile-long Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan. The Rouge grew into the largest manufacturing complex in the U.S., with a force that peaked at 120,000 workers.

Kahn was responsible for many of the buildings and houses built under direction of the Hiram Walker family in Walkerville, Ontario, including Willistead Manor. Kahn's interest in historically styled buildings is also seen in his houses in Detroit's Indian Village, the Cranbrook House, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House and The Dearborn Inn, the world's first airport hotel.

Kahn also designed the landmark 28-story Art Deco Fisher Building in Detroit, considered one of the most beautiful elements of the Detroit skyline. In 1928, the Fisher building was honored by the Architectural League of New York as the year's most beautiful commercial structure. Between 1917 and 1929, he designed the headquarters for all three major daily newspapers in Detroit.

On May 8, 1929, through an agreement signed with Kahn by President of Amtorg Saul G. Bron, the Soviet government contracted the Albert Kahn firm to design the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, the first tractor plant in the USSR. On January 9, 1930, a second contract with Kahn was signed for his firm to become consulting architects for all industrial construction in the Soviet Union. Under these contracts, during 1929–1932, Kahn’s firm, at its headquarters in Detroit and the especially created design bureau in Moscow, Gosproektstroi, headed by Albert Kahn’s younger brother, Moritz Kahn, trained over 4,000 Soviet architects and engineers and designed 521 plants and factories[3] under the First Five-Year Plan.[9][10]

Kahn also designed many of the classic buildings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. These include the Burton Memorial Tower, Hill Auditorium, Hatcher Graduate Library, and William L. Clements Library. Kahn said later in life that out of all the buildings he designed, he wanted most to be remembered for his work on the William L. Clements Library.

A frequent collaborator with Kahn was architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci. In all, Parducci worked on about 50 Kahn commissions including banks, office buildings, newspaper buildings, mausoleums, hospitals and private residences.

Kahn's firm designed a large number of the army airfield and naval bases for the United States government during World War I. By World War II, Kahn's 600-person office was involved in making Detroit an important element of America's Arsenal of Democracy. Among others, the office designed the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, and the Willow Run Bomber Plant, Kahn's last building, located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Ford Motor Company mass-produced Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers.[11][12]

In 1937, Albert Kahn Associates was responsible for 19 percent of all architect-designed factories in the U.S.[3] In 1941, Kahn received the eighth highest salary and compensation package in the U.S., $486,936, on which he paid 72% in tax.[13]

Albert Kahn worked on more than 1,000 commissions from Henry Ford[3] and hundreds for other automakers. Kahn designed showrooms for Ford Motor Company in several cities including New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston. He died in Detroit on December 8, 1942.

As of 2006, Kahn had approximately 60 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not all of Kahn's works have been preserved. Cass Technical High School in Detroit, designed by Malcomson and Higginbotham and built by Albert Kahn's firm in 1922, was demolished in 2011 after vandals had stripped it of most of its fixtures.[14] The Donovan Building, later occupied by Motown Records, abandoned for decades, was demolished as part of Detroit's beautification plan before the 2006 Super Bowl XL.

Twelve Albert Kahn buildings are recognized by official Michigan historical markers:[15]

He is not related to American architect Louis Kahn.

Kahn-designed buildings

Temple Beth-El (now Bonstelle Theatre), 1903
Albert Kahn's house, 1906
General Motors Building (now Cadillac Place), 1919
All buildings are located in Detroit, unless otherwise indicated.


Campus structures built during his career (source of this list: Schreiber, Penny. “Albert Kahn’s Campus.” The Ann Arbor Observer, January, 2002, pp. 27–33):

Hill Auditorium, with Burton Memorial Tower in the background
White-colored stone building with columns in the center of the facade c. 1924
University of Michigan Central Campus: Angell Hall, one of the major buildings of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Greek Organization Buildings:

See also


  1. Albert Kahn papers "he also received the Frank P. Brown medal posthumously"
  2. Jewish Currents: "A Golden Age of Jewish Architects" by Abbott Gorin Spring 2015
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Johnson, Donald L. and Donald Langmead (1997). Makers of 20th Century Modern Architecture: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. ISBN 1136640568. Pp. 161-164.
  4. Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, pp. 97-100, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1945.
  5. "About Kahn-What". Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  6. Ferry 1970, p. 11.
  7. Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, pp. 107-8, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1945.
  8. Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 22, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  9. Melnikova-Raich, Sonia (2010). "The Soviet Problem with Two 'Unknowns': How an American Architect and a Soviet Negotiator Jump-Started the Industrialization of Russia, Part I: Albert Kahn". IA, The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology. 36 (2): 59–73. ISSN 0160-1040. JSTOR 41933723.
  10. "Industry's Architect". Time. June 29, 1942. Retrieved 2008-04-04. In 1928 the Soviet Government, after combing the U.S. for a man who could furnish the building brains for Russia's industrialization, offered the job to Kahn. Twenty-five Kahn engineers and architects went to Moscow. They had to start from scratch.
  11. Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, pp. 109-10, 120-28, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1945.
  12. Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 51-2, 96-8, 148, 200, 227-9, 242, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  13. "Compensation and the I.R.S.: It's not the 'Good' Old Days". New York Times. 2010-12-01. (Business Day section). Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  14. Cass Tech High School (old). HistoricDetroit. Retrieved on November 20, 2014.
  15. Michigan Historical Markers
  16. Benjamin L. Gravel Jr. Frederick H. Holt House (250 East Boston Boulevard). Historic Detroit. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  17. "Detroit Times Building". Buildings of Detroit. Archived from the original on 26 October 2010. Retrieved October 29, 2010.

Further reading

External links

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